/ Glacier Noob. rope and cord combo

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paul_the_northerner - on 09 Jan 2017
Hi

so planning first trip to the alps for this summer and trying to figure out some of the specifics, in this case glacier travel.

Trying to figure out the best option for rope. we are planning no technical climbing, mainly just glorified walking so we don't need to be lugging around a full climbing rope.

So for glacier travel i am told you need something like 20M of rope between people (group of 2 BTW) plus a bit of extra for crevasse rescue so this means carrying a 30M to 40M rope.

Is there any reason we can't go with a light 20M rope and each person then has say 10M of 7mm cord on hand for use in a rescue? its surely less weight to carry and takes up less pack space... seems logical to me but I may be missing some obvious flaw in the plan.
Misha - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:
Obvious flaw is your cord will be separate to the rope, so less versatile (you can join it using a fisherman's but that's extra faff and the knot won't get through prussics etc). Plus if you need rope to climb or abseil (you never know), again it will be less versatile. Also, on hand means on you as body coils. Take 30-40m of half rope, it doesn't weight much. Perhaps read up on rescue techniques as well.
paul_the_northerner - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to Misha:

fair enough, just wanted to test the water with a theory. Taking the glacier travel with a lot of caution as its not something we have experience with.
James Jackson on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:
The rope length is for when you need to set up a crevasse rescue - pulley systems etc. If you've got a rope with cord knotted on to the end, the knot won't run through your setup (prussicks, carabiners etc). I generally carry a lightweight 25m rope for glacier travel (a cut down 50m half rope).

It is well worth getting somebody to run through the basics of glacier travel and rescue systems with you before you go (or, better, get a day with a knowledgable friend or instructor to show you for real when you are out). It's not hard stuff, but there are nuances to certain situations.

Have fun - the Alps are incredible.
Post edited at 23:32
AdrianC - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

You'll probably get all sorts of advice from people on here about different rope combinations but as James says, by far the best thing is to get someone who knows what they're doing to show you how to set yourselves up for glacier travel and then you can work out for yourselves what sort of rope and how much of it you're going to need.
zimpara - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:
I gave two (ULTRA LIGHTWEIGHT) mountain marathon runners 15 metres of 5mm cord to rope up on mont blanc when I was there. lol
So light weight is possible, but it is stupid. I know where you are coming from. but rather buy lighter stuff than devalue your main safety net. (30 metres of 8.3mm half rope only weights 1.6kg)

The problem with knots is they do not pass through pulleys/prussiks.

Hence why it is a BAD idea to put alpine butterlies down the rope at 5m intervals or whatever and passing knots gets very complicated and sloppy when hauling 3:1 or more. Try it once you have a straight forward rescue worked out.

I used a 20m 7.9mm half rope on mont blanc but only because of the low risk of crevasses.

It isn't enough for high risk areas I feel. And I wouldn't go much thinner either.
Post edited at 09:36
MG - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

It's worth finding some trees or whatever on a steep slope and trying a few systems out with one person down-slope (in a crevasse) and the other belayed to a tree (on the glacier) - note this is a *far* easier situation than would occur on a real glacier, not least because there is a readily available, bombproof belay. I think you will conclude there is a lot of rubbish talked about the effectiveness and practicality of many recommended rope systems for glaciers, particularly when it comes to hauling.

Personally I prioritise setting things to 1) reduce the chance of falling in far 2) being able to communicate (shouting, having phone handy), 3) being able to prussik out and 4) being able to set up a haul system. I don't really believe 4) is possibly in many practical cases for teams of 2, despite all the blurb, and certainly not without quite a lot of rope (50m+). A lot of books talk about an assisted hoist - think about how much rope this implies each person must carry. Knots in the rope will probably help with 1), despite other disadvantages.
paul_the_northerner - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

Seems like the general consensus is that it’s better to have the safety of a decent length of rope. As well as plenty of practice as to how to best use it. Seems like the sensible answer!

I have an old climbing partner who has spent some time in the Alps so I will see if he wouldn’t mind talking us through some stuff.

Super exited for the trip and am training as much as I can…but the glacier travel is one of those things I am not really looking forward to. Hoping to avoid them if possible but so many routes require an approach that passes over one.
MG - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:
Don't be put off by the glacier stuff. For "normal" glaciers with a track and other people around, you are very unlikely to come to much harm.

Edit: Probably best to wear crampons even if not strictly needed on a glacier and to have gloves handy. Both would be helpful if you fell in, I imagine.
Post edited at 10:30
James Jackson on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to MG:

Agree with all you say - and hence good to get somebody to show you not only how to effect a rescue, but also how to travel on a glacier. If you're roped up, people shouldn't actually fall in very far.

Hauling is hard work, and some times frankly impossible - if not just for things like the rope digging in to the edges of crevasses. There's a reason the rescue crews carry tripods to remove this point of friction. Your best approach is layered:

1. Don't fall in (understand glacier travel)
2. If you fall in, don't fall far (understand team glacier travel tactics and ropework)
3. Know self-rescue (how to prussik up a rope if you are not injured)
4. Know partner rescue

3 and 4 require a knowledge of how to set up anchors (ice screws, ice axes, skis, frozen mars bars, whatever) in various conditions too. It's a great field to learn about, and will make you and your team safer.
MG - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to James Jackson:
> If you're roped up, people shouldn't actually fall in very far.

Even this is a bit questionable, I think. Say 15m of rope between people, with minimum slack so just touching the ground. If someone falls in, the distance they will fall is: ground to tie-in point times 2 (2m) +rope stretch (1m) + slack (1m) + sliding while the fall is held (1m) + rope cutting in (1m). Those are minimum values and add up to 6m...
Post edited at 14:08
tingle - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to James Jackson:

if you arent KO prussiking is definitely the best choice, as long as the top man has anchored you properly. Blindly hauling with a even a few people in a panic could do serious damage when the bottom man gets to the lip, as in he is crushed to death (or so im told). Just practice different techniques like drop loop rescue, z pulley, prussik and then you are set for anything.
Mark Haward - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

You are getting some interesting responses here. You may find getting a book such as Bruce Goodlad's Alpine Mountaineering useful as a start. You can then practice some of the techniques in the UK and then try them out on a dry glacier and then again on a wet glacier. Many people find hiring a guide for the day useful, you'll then get expert knowledge.
Glaciers vary hugely in their risk potential and the techniques required to travel reasonably safely upon them. No one system does it all. To travel reasonably safely on glaciated terrain it is good to have three particular areas of knowledge and skill.
1) Knowledge of glaciers and their changing conditions so you can avoid crevasse falls as much as possible
2) What equipment is required and how to use it whilst moving on a glacier
3) In the event of a crevasse fall how to make yourselves secure, how to get out of a crevasse and how to get someone else out of a crevasse. ( First aid too! )


1) Knowledge of glaciers and their changing conditions so you can avoid crevasse falls as much as possible.
How to predict where crevasses are likely to be, how to avoid crevasses or estimate if snow bridges are reasonably safe to cross. This would also include understanding how temperature, sunshine, aspect, wind direction and slope will affect snow / glaciers.
As a matter of interest there are some huge but often very well hidden / covered crevasses and bergshrunds on all the Mont Blanc routes. A set of footprints or path is no indicator of whether crevasses are there or not or if a snow bridge is safe. Over the years I have seen several people fall into crevasses on both the Gouter and Trois Monts routes on Mont Blanc. On one especially memorable occasion the last member of a party of three on the Trois Monts route only a third of the way up the Tacul untied, stepped two metres off a well worn track to have a pee and disappeared. Her mates didn't notice for a few minutes. ( She was fine by the way, just very cold and very wet by the time we got her out and was incapable of continuing with the route that day )

2) What equipment is required and how to use it whilst moving on a glacier
What equipment to use and how to use it would include crampons, axe, harness, rope, tieing in methods, managing coils, prussiks or ascenders of some kind, some type of pulley system, use of ice screws or ( more likely ) snow anchors such as a buried axe belay.
Stopping any potential or actual fall is always the priority. Hence, especially if there are only two on a rope or you are in a particularly hazardous glacier or conditions are more hazardous, knots can be very useful in stopping a fall becoming a lot worse. ( It does make rescue more problematic but stopping the fall is the priority and requires good rope skills and concentration).
For those familiar with ropework ( for example experienced climbers ) thinner half ropes or triple rated ropes are fine. However, a full single rope of 10 - 11mm thickness is often easier to hold for new / novice climbers and obviously must be dry treated. Some people do use shorter ropes but with 15 - 20 metres between you that leaves almost no rope to effect a potential rescue. So I would recommend a 50 metre rope unless you are on the 'safest' of glaciers.

3) In the event of a crevasse fall how to make yourselves secure, how to get out of a crevasse and how to get someone else out of a crevasse. ( First aid too! )

If someone falls into a crevasse you need to know how to make them and yourself safe ( anchors mentioned above ), how they could get themselves out and how you can help them and how you can get them out by yourself with some kind of rescue system. Please do not rely on others being around to help - that is just a bonus. I would also add how to contact rescue services
As people have mentioned self rescue from crevasses is challenging even with the knowledge, skills, right equipment and practice. However, it is usually perfectly doable.

I hope I haven't put you off because alpine walking and climbing is awesome fun. Just make sure you get the right knowledge, skills, equipment and practice. Get the book mentioned above, the BMC have an excellent video and the MC of S crevasse rescue videos are great too - some clips on You Tube. Have fun!
James Jackson on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to MG:

> Even this is a bit questionable ... Those are minimum values and add up to 6m...

Oh sure, for a given value of 'not far', and not all of that will be at full pelt. Your milage may (quite literally) vary. My point is, 6m isn't 30m. Best option is avoidance in the first place of course!

In reply to Mark Haward:

Exactly. Avoid falling in. Know your equipment. Know self-rescue (which include stabilising one's self). Know partner rescue. The book you mention is excellent, and fully support the advice to go out with somebody (be it an experienced friend / guide / whatever) to start learning and try it out for yourself.
Mark Haward - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

I should have checked your profile first - my apologies. It looks from your profile as if you probably already know about and can use most of the equipment I mentioned and have many of the skills. You may already have some knowledge of snow and its changing conditions judging by the lovely photo too.
You may well find a half rope is fine which saves some weight. You could use a shorter rope, perhaps 40m on some glaciers. As some have suggested you can on occasions use shorter ropes if you have experience / good judgement skills and have good knowledge of the route. However, it does potentially reduce your safety margin and if your judgement is misplaced, or you are unlucky, and you have to get someone out of a crevasse by yourself you would regret the extra few metres of rope.
In the past I, as have many others, have been irresponsible enough to solo many alpine peaks ( including Mont Blanc by different routes ) involving glacier travel but only in the right conditions; even then I often carry a rope. I can't recommend it and I know of others, including guides, who have fallen into crevasses crossing glaciers without a rope / partner and have died.
Get the book, practice the skills and enjoy it.
paul_the_northerner - on 10 Jan 2017
In reply to Mark Haward:

no need to apologise! i'd be a fool to turn down advice as i would not describe myself as experienced.

i have the very book you mentioned, read it cover to cover, though have loaned it out to someone... need to get that back sometime.

i appreciate the reply's from folks on here. i'm all for learning by my own experiences as that can be part of the fun, but in some cases its definitely better to ask :P
zimpara - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

> i appreciate the reply's from folks on here. i'm all for learning by my own experiences as that can be part of the fun, but in some cases its definitely better to ask :P

Don't ask too many questions otherwise people will think you are a fool.
Zimp
99ster - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to MG:

> Edit: Probably best to wear crampons even if not strictly needed on a glacier and to have gloves handy. Both would be helpful if you fell in, I imagine.

Crampons can also be a very bad idea - if you fall into a slot crevasse wearing crampons there's a good chance you'll break your legs or ankles or both on the way down...

Mark Haward - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

Thank you.
It is quite possible to practice some of the crevasse rescue skills in the UK, take the book and find a quiet spot. Most years I can be seen discretely practicing, teaching or sharing strategies with others on Dartmoor.
For example: practising tying in and making / securing coils until it is second nature; walking roped up with coils keeping an appropriate distance and tension; use a preset rock anchor and someone hauling on the other end of the rope to practice transferring weight to the anchor, escaping the system, setting up a rescue pulley system and dragging your mate ( or a loaded rucksack ) across the grass. Obviously you can practice prussiking with a rucksack on - always fun.
If you get any decent snow you can repeat and try out setting up a buried axe belay whilst someone is hauling the other end of the rope trying to pull you over - in my opinion the hardest part of the process.
Finally, you are likely to be on glaciers early in the morning when the snow is ( hopefully ) frozen or on steeper icy slopes so you will need crampons but there may be times you can do without them. Even when hot, lightweight gloves can make the rope handling much easier. On the surface of a glacier you may be extremely warm / hot - t shirt type weather. When crevasse potential is reasonably high make sure either party is wearing or can reach a waterproof or warm jacket without taking their rucksack off because if you fall in a slot you are likely to get very cold, very wet very quickly. ( Assuming you can get the jacket on and are not wedged of course ).
Where are you thinking of going?
Mark Haward - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to zimpara:

I suspect that it is not the number of questions but the type that can be irksome to some people at times. Some people would say there is no such thing as a stupid question, but I think there are certainly some inappropriate answers.
Pete Houghton - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to zimpara:

> Don't ask too many questions otherwise people will think you are a fool.

Jesus H F*cking Christ!

In reply to paul_the_northerner:

> i appreciate the reply's from folks on here. i'm all for learning by my own experiences as that can be part of the fun, but in some cases its definitely better to ask :P

Humans have survived and thrived for so long thanks, in part, to their ability to communicate and share knowledge. Learning from one's mistakes is one thing, but it's even better to learn from other people's. If in doubt about anything, anywhere, at any time, asking questions can, at the very least, make your day that little bit easier or more enjoyable, and at best could save lives.
There are no stupid questions... only stupid people.
ianstevens - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to MG:

This. If the glacier is not snow covered, how on earth are you going to fall into a crevasse unless you walk straight in!
ianstevens - on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to zimpara:

> Don't ask too many questions otherwise people will think you are a fool.

> Zimp

Don't ask questions and you will increase your chance of dying. Ask a lot of questions and consider the resposnes and nobody will think you're a fool. Ask lots of questions and arrogantly igonore those who have been climbing longer than you have been in existance giving you great advice, and people will think you are a fool.

No personal reference here of course.
James Jackson on 11 Jan 2017
In reply to Pete Houghton:

> Humans have survived and thrived for so long thanks, in part, to their ability to communicate and share knowledge. Learning from one's mistakes is one thing, but it's even better to learn from other people's. If in doubt about anything, anywhere, at any time, asking questions can, at the very least, make your day that little bit easier or more enjoyable, and at best could save lives.

> There are no stupid questions... only stupid people.

I heard a great quote somewhere, along the lines of 'life is not long enough to make every mistake yourself, so you have to learn from others'.
ralphio - on 12 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

Get the BMC alpine climbing DVD. Watched it religiously before my first trip. Tells you everything you need to know.
johnboybuchan - on 12 Jan 2017
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

My first Alpine trip involved a course covering all the essentials of Alpine mountaineering (inc glacier travel). I really do think it was the best money I ever spent. (Done with Al Powell and Rich Cross from Alpine Guides, luckily subsidised by the BMC, but highly recommended)

I agree with most of the advice here and I'll add one (probably obvious) thing: Timing. Check your route times against the guidebook times and make sure you are up to speed and get those early starts. We were coming back to the hut one time about lunchtime, on a beautiful sunny day, following the well worn track and punched through into 4-5 slots without warning (unless you don't count 'lunchtime' and 'the beautiful sunny day' as the warning that is!)

Have fun out there!
zimpara - on 00:03 Thu
In reply to Pete Houghton:

> Jesus H F*cking Christ!

Was a cracker if I do say so myself.

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